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Berlin: ‘Saint Christopher’ is Busiest Rescue Helicopter in Germany

When a patient’s life needs to be saved at once, ‘Christoph 31’ will be sent. Berlin’s rescue helicopter comes with an emergency doctor. And it is extremely busy.

On January 4th, 2020, two police vehicles raced towards Berlin’s ‘Hasenheide’ park. Their mission was to secure a meadow at the park’s northern entrance, and they did so for a reason: ‘Christoph 31’, one of two rescue helicopters in the German capital, was on its way, and that meadow is the only landing site in the area around ‘Hermannplatz’ square.

Holy Helper

‘Christoph 31’ got its name from Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers who is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers in Catholicism. Since he comes from above, he does not need wheels. Neither does he have to bypass traffic jams or take red traffic lights. When he lands, someone needs to be treated and transported urgently.

Of course there are cases in which even ‘Christoph 31’ cannot help anymore. Just yesterday, a bicyclist died under a truck at ‘Kottbusser Tor’. It seems to have been one of those feared accidents: A truck makes a right turn, the driver cannot see the bicyclist who approaches the intersection and runs him or her down.

Police are guarding 'Christoph 31' at Berlin's 'Hasenheide' park in early 2020
Police are guarding ‘Christoph 31’ at Berlin’s ‘Hasenheide’ park in early 2020. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Yesterday’s victim was the first bicyclist to die on the streets of Berlin in 2020. She passed away right there at the scene. Last year, there were six deadly accidents involving bicyclists. Statistically, half the cases are being caused by the cyclists themselves, and the other half by car or truck drivers.

Busiest Heli on Earth

But the yellow helicopter which is being operated by the General German Automobile Association does save many lives. The Berlin fire department orders it quite often. In 2017, ‘Christoph 31’ even was the busiest rescue helicopter on the planet, with more than 3000 missions. In 2018, it accomplished 3147 of them.

The helicopter’s usual base is located at the Benjamin Franklin Clinic, which is part of the Charité Campus in Berlin’s Steglitz district. In 2018, its landing site needed to be moved to Schönefeld Airport temporarily because ‘Christoph 31’ needed a new one at its headquarters. Its construction was delayed, the ‘Morgenpost’ daily reported this morning.

Had everything worked out as planned, the emergency doctors, pilots and the entire ‘Christoph 31’ staff would have moved out of those containers in Schönefeld a while ago. But, as the ‘Morgenpost’ reported, the construction took a lot longer than expected, while the landing site’s price tag doubled to more than 5 million Euro (5.6 million U.S. Dollars or 4.2 million Pounds Sterling). In March of 2020, the new site will supposedly be ready, six months later than originally planned.

Missions in Berlin and Brandenburg

Since 1987, the savior in the sky has flown well over 75,000 missions. During the extremely hot summer of 2019, the crew was extremely busy, because there were many patients with acute cardiovascular problems. From the moment the alarm bell rings, ‘Christoph 31’ can reach any point in Berlin in 13 to 14 minutes. Sometimes even that is too long.

The helicopter also accepts missions in parts of Brandenburg, namely Potsdam as well as the counties Oberhavel, Barnim, Märkisch-Oderland, Oder-Spree, Dahme-Spreewald, Teltow-Fläming, Havelland and Potsdam-Mittelmark. This cooperation is based on an agreement signed by Berlin and Brandenburg many years ago.

All in all, three pilots, twelve emergency doctors and four paramedics are part of the ‘Christoph 31’ team. One pilot, one paramedic and one doctor are part of every single mission. The paramedic supports the doctor, but also the pilot when it comes to communication and navigation.

Salvation in Daylight Only

Before Germany’s reunification, the General German Automobile Association had to cooperate with the Americans. Because of the Four Power Agreement on Berlin, they controlled the air space over West Berlin. This situation lasted until 1992.

At times, during big events in Berlin, such as the Soccer World Cup in 2006, ‘Christoph 31’ will have reinforcement. In this case, a third rescue helicopter was on duty in the German capital.

While ‘Christoph 31’ only operates in daylight, there is another helicopter that flies at night too. ‘Christoph Berlin’ is available 24 hours per day. Its base is located at the Accident Hospital in Biesdorf.

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